What I Didn’t Learn at Yale

I graduated from Yale University more than 50 years ago.  As part of our celebration of our 50th reunion, we baby boomers were asked to contribute an essay to the “Class Book” of 1969.  This is taken from that essay.


There were many things I did not learn at Yale, but only came to understand, however imperfectly, after leaving in June 1969.  In light of the unprecedented ferment in 2020 surrounding this country’s problemmatic relation to race, I will mention first Yale’s failure to bring our largely white class face-to-face with the powerful grasp of institutional racism in the US.  Both the nation and Yale were founded by men who either personally benefitted from slavery, or at least facilitated the perpetuation of slavery for more than a century after the founding of Yale in 1701. Elihu Yale, was a slave-trader.

Yale Founder Elihu Yale with slave
Elihu Yale with young slave boy.

John C. Calhoun, namesake of one of Yale’s residential colleges, was one of the nation’s strongest advocates of slaveholding rights.  In fact, several of it’s residential colleges were named after slave owners and pro-slavery leaders.  In fairness, there were also early Yale figures who played leading roles in the anti-slavery movement from the very beginning.  This complicated history of 400 years of slavery was not a part of the core curriculum I was encouraged to study.  




I also wish I had been confronted at Yale with a less ethno-centric understanding of the world.  It did not dawn on me until much later that US dominance in the 20th century was an aberrant blip in the course of human history.  Despite much study of international relations and economic development, Yale did not prepare me either for the 21st century decline in Pax Americana, nor for the resurgence of China, who had been a world-power throughout much human history, now returning to a place of global prominence that Yale did not prepare me for.


Yale men from the all-male days of the 1960’s.

Thirdy, it should have been patently clear to me due to the very nature of our “men only” education (Yale first admitted woman the year after I graduated in 1969) that we were part of a misogynistic cluture.  I don’t recall being offered a single course on discrimation against women, or even find a single reading on the topic in any of my syllabi.  Now 50 years later, the extent of gender discrimination and harassment is inescapable.  Only by finally coming to recognize this reality can we look to the possibility of true gender and racial equality.



Climate Change

Carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was already known to be rising by the 1960’s.

Lastly, while I was a social science major, my Yale education was remiss in not teaching me of the well-founded science of climate change.  Growing pollution and fossil-fuel-based carbon dioxide were already being widely studied, and their antrhopocentric roots were beginning to be understood, but Yale’s distribution and major requirements had allowed me to get a BA without a single assignment on the topics.


While Yale let me graduate with little or no exposure to the aboved trends, all dominant in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, I took something away with me when I left Yale that did prepare me to cope with them.  A deep love of learning was nurtured by my teachers and fellow students at Yale.  Most importantly, while at Yale, perhaps even because of Yale, I developed deep and lasting friendships with some of the most talented, intelligent, compassionate fellow travelers on the life path of the baby boomers.  For over 50 years now we have reunited, golfed, imbibed more than a little, grieved the loss of compatriouts, celebrated the marriages of children, exalted in the birth of grandshildren, and often commiserated about the plight of personal and world affairs.  For bestowing upon me a life-long respect for the pursuit of knowldege and for introducing me friends for live, I salute you mother Yale.  Boola boola.

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